Main Street Views


The Value of Not Knowing
Tevere MacFadyen
Mar 15 2015 - 10:30pm

We took the boys to Rincon, at the western tip of Puerto Rico, for a week or so of winter surfing. I’d never been there before and hadn’t done much to prepare, and as we groped through the first few days, like walking down an unfamiliar path in the dark, I was reminded again of the value of not knowing.

Stepping off the beach and feeling my way gingerly across the reef, invisible under a thick layer of churning aerated seafoam, I had to trust my toes to tell me where to go – and where not to. By midweek I knew instinctively where the sandy places lay among the spiny urchins and sharp rocks, and while I was safer I was also less keenly aware.

Watching our 18 year old bobbing in the swells while waiting for his perfect wave, pulled south by the current even as the surf began to rhythmically build, we studied every detail: how the big breakers came in sets; the translucent bottle green color of their crests as they were about to crash; how shallow the water was in the troughs. A few days later, looking up from my book, I realized I’d almost stopped noticing.

Interpretation is about information, of course, but it’s also (and arguably more importantly) about inspiration: giving guests the encouragement and support they need to figure things out on their own. And too often, too much information substitutes for not enough inspiration. When you don’t know where you’re going, you tend to pay closer attention to your surroundings, and as a result to remember more vividly where you’ve been.

One evening after a brief rain the scrubby woods around our apartment were suddenly filled with a chorus of sonorous calls, the vocalizations of the common Puerto Rican tree frog known as coqui. All the calls followed the same basic two-note pattern, but each individual had its own distinctive sound, like jazz musicians riffing on a theme. In concert they were beautiful and mesmerizing, but I had no idea what they were. That made me want to find out.